Northern Ireland community groups turning to loans amid belt-tightening
A growing number of social and community groups have turned to borrowing amid a tightening of public funding. Northern Ireland's largest social finance lender, the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT), said it had experienced its biggest start to a year, with almost £2m in new funding approved or drawn down during the first quarter.
The loans ranged from £20,000 to £220,000, and related to 18 community projects.
The UCIT said the funds would be used for a variety of purposes, including business expansion, capital build projects and property refurbishment.
Harry McDaid, UCIT's chief executive, added: "With almost £2m approved or drawn down in the past quarter, this has been the busiest period in UCIT's 16-year history.
"Over the years, the scale and scope of the local social economy has grown rapidly.
"That is reflected in UCIT's increasingly diverse loan book, which includes sports clubs, charities, green energy projects, faith-based organisations, social housing schemes and arts projects. The recently drawn funds will support a wide range of objectives, including job creation, business development and employability.
"Although the social enterprise sector continues to grow, it comes at a time when public funding is tightening and mainstream lenders are focussing elsewhere."
Jonathan McAlpin, chief executive of the East Belfast Enterprise, which has received funding from the UCIT and which is expanding its 'Foundry' space for new small companies - said: "We manage 50,000 sq ft of rental space and deliver a dozen business training programmes.
"Our space is let to 60 small enterprises, employing over 200 people, while our business support and training programmes have helped thousands of people in an area of high unemployment and social deprivation."